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Sultry film star Lauren Bacall dies at 89

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, one of Hollywood´s great film pairings, appear in "The Big Sleep" (1946), the second of their four movies together.
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, one of Hollywood's great film pairings, appear in "The Big Sleep" (1946), the second of their four movies together.
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, one of Hollywood´s great film pairings, appear in "The Big Sleep" (1946), the second of their four movies together. Gallery: Sultry film star Lauren Bacall dies at 89

Lauren Bacall, 89, a bewitching actress whose smoldering onscreen chemistry with Humphrey Bogart made her a defining movie star of the 1940s and who decades later won Tony Awards in the Broadway musicals Applause and Woman of the Year, died Tuesday at her home in New York.

Robbert de Klerk, co-managing partner of the Humphrey Bogart Estate, confirmed the death in an e-mail but declined to give details.

Ms. Bacall was one of the last surviving major stars of the studio system. She was a willowy, ash-blond fashion model when director Howard Hawks plucked her from the pages of Harper's Bazaar in 1943 and molded her seductive screen persona.

Hawks gave Ms. Bacall, then 19, an electrifying film debut: as a sexy, insolent woman of mystery in To Have and Have Not (1944), based on an Ernest Hemingway story and set in the Caribbean during World War II. The movie shaped her public identity: a woman as sexually confident as she was formidable, or in Bogart's words, "steel with curves."

In the film's best-remembered scene, she sidles up to Bogart, who plays a hard-boiled charter-boat captain. She kisses him, then says, "It's even better when you help."

As she prepares to leave his hotel room, she says: "You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."

Bogart, more than twice her age and looking it, wore an expression of someone who could not believe his luck. Here was someone whose impertinence matched his - and she could sing, to boot, rendering "How Little We Know" to Hoagy Carmichael's piano. Bogart divorced his third wife and married the actress after filming.

The sexual undercurrent was repeated in The Big Sleep (1946), with Bogart as Raymond Chandler's fictional private detective Marlowe and Ms. Bacall as a resourceful divorcee. "Bogie and Bacall," as they became known, appeared together in two more films, Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948).

She went on to act opposite some of the top leading men of her day, from Gary Cooper to John Wayne, but the films were inconsistent in quality.

If she never again matched the sultry intensity of her early promise, she became a disciplined Broadway performer.

After Bogart died in 1957, she was engaged to Frank Sinatra and had a turbulent marriage to actor Jason Robards Jr.

Attracted to liberal politics, she grew close to a series of Democratic leaders. In 1947, she flew with Bogart to Washington as part of a group of actors and directors protesting the House Un-American Activities Committee and its inquiry into alleged communist subversion in Hollywood.

Onscreen, she matured into character parts that culminated in her Oscar nomination in a supporting role as Barbra Streisand's hopelessly narcissistic mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). She received an honorary Academy Award in 2009.

She was born Betty Joan Perske on Sept. 16, 1924, into a middle-class Jewish family in New York City. Her father abandoned the family when she was a child.

She had modest training as an actress, but her stunning looks led to a modeling career and an appearance on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in March 1943.

Captivated by her photogenic face, Hawks put her under a seven-year contract, trained her in techniques of film acting, and waited for the right material to introduce her to audiences.   

She said she had little experience with men when she met Bogart. She did not find him particularly attractive at first and was a bit scared. He was married at the time to his third wife, actress Mayo Methot (they were known as the battling Bogarts).

But the couple grew close during filming - "it was almost imperceptible," Ms. Bacall later wrote - and wed in 1945. She said she later found he was a complicated companion - "a man of such integrity, such honor and wit" - but also a heavy drinker who surrounded himself with other heavy drinkers.. It was a "traumatic" experience for her, she later wrote, while she was also adjusting fitfully to her stardom.

She preferred working in comedy, usually delivering wry lines with a convincingly haughty tone. She won acclaim opposite Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable as one of three unabashedly gold-digging models in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).

Her career slumped markedly in the 1950s. She said she was more content to be Mrs. Humphrey Bogart. She accompanied him on his film assignments, raised their two children, Stephen and Leslie, and helped host informal parties five nights a week at their home in Los Angeles.

When he received a diagnosis of cancer in 1956, she curtailed the couple's social activities and spent nearly all of her time caring for him. In her grief after he died the next year, she said, she fell into a depression.

She grew deeply attached to Sinatra, a close family friend. When word of their engagement leaked to the media, the singer stopped taking her calls.

She said she felt humiliated by Sinatra, mistreated by the gossip pages, and dismayed by what she called the superficiality of Hollywood life. Saying she had tired of being seen as "Bogart's widow," she settled her family in New York, hoping to construct a new identity as a theater actress.

In 1961, she wed Robards, a distinguished stage actor. He was a brilliant and passionate person, she later said, but grew violent when drinking. The marriage produced a son, actor Sam Robards, before ending in divorce in 1969.

She won her two Tonys in roles made indelible onscreen by other powerful actresses. She played an aging actress threatened by an ambitious upstart in Applause (1970), a stage version of the Bette Davis film All About Eve. And she filled the Katharine Hepburn part of a high-powered journalist in Woman of the Year (1981).

On television talk shows, she exhibited a persona that paralleled her screen appearances: She was frank, even blunt, with an undertone of sardonic humor, all of which she demonstrated in her best-selling 1979 autobiography, By Myself, which beat out works by William Saroyan among others for the National Book Award.

After losing the Oscar in 1996 to Juliette Binoche, Ms. Bacall told the Times of London that "the phone went completely dead, which shows you what a fickle business it is. It's one of the reasons why I continue to work, because I know how it is not to work."

 


A Select Filmography

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Confidential Agent (1945)

The Big Sleep (1946)

Dark Passage (1947)

Key Largo (1948)

Young Man with a Horn (1950)

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Blood Alley (1955)

Written on the Wind (1956)

Northwest Frontier (1959)

Sex and the Single Girl (1964)

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

The Shootist (1976)

H.E.A.L.T.H. (1979)

The Fan (1981)

Misery (1990)

Ready to Wear (1994)

The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)

Dogville (2003)

Howl's Moving Castle (voice) (2004)

The Walker (2007)

Ernest & Celestine (voice) (2014)

SOURCES: Washington Post, Wikipedia


This article contains information from the Associated Press.

Adam Bernstein Washington Post
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